To There and Back Again – the New Life of Thomas Cook’s Excursionist

The name Thomas Cook is iconic in the European travel industry. The brand’s 3,000 retail travel shops draw some 40 million consumers into their stores each year, most of them looking for information about their next big travel adventure. In 2017, to better serve their omni-channel consumers, the company launched a new Media and Partnership division, headed by Ed Marr. Little did they know at the time that this venture would resurrect a print magazine that had been shuttered for 80 years.

“Thomas Cook, a cabinet maker from Harborough in Leicestershire, built his international holiday retail business on the success of selling tickets to travel on a one-day rail excursion between Leicester and Loughborough in 1841,” writes Peter van Niekerk in FIPP. “By [1851] his business was so successful that more than 150,000 people booked trips with Cook to visit the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. With his sight set on promoting international travel, Cook published for the first time the Cook’s Exhibition Herald and Excursion Advertiser, a magazine Cook said should cater for ‘the practical worker more than the sentimental traveller.’”

That magazine, later titled The Excursionist, was published in six languages across 10 countries by 1910, including Asia, Australasia, India, France, Belgium and the United States, van Niekerk explains. It was abandoned in 1939 at the start of WW2. 

End of story? It might have been if the various media businesses within the Thomas Cook Group remained siloed off as they were. Once those silos where unified, pure magic happened.

“We needed to bring all of the detail together under one team and one management across all markets with the aim to create a unified, innovative multi-channel media offering,” Marr explained to van Niekerk.  This new team “needed to provide integrated multi-market marketing campaigns that [were] data driven with tech enabled solutions,” include websites, interactive in-store displays and geo-fenced apps.

Van Niekerk explains that the team “realised that they needed an inspirational travel lifestyle product to reach customers at the very start of their holiday booking journey. Only then did they discover that this product already existed at Thomas Cook in The Excursionist but that it was abandoned almost 80 years ago.”

It’s been just over a year since they blew the dust of 80 years off the magazine and printed their run of 100,000 copies. It’s now published twice yearly and distributed in their stores, and serves to help persuade motivate customers to act on their travel dreams. 

“Our view is that once customers are inflight, they are not in the best mindset to choose their next holiday destination,” says Marr, explaining that the magazine is not to be confused with Thomas Cook Group’s inflight magazine. “The important thing is to present travel ideas to customers at the very beginning of their customer journey, which is the inspire stage when people are thinking about their next holiday.”

Almost a century after being shut down, this company found tremendous opportunity and untapped value in resurrecting their flagship print title. It’s a testimony to the power of print to engage and motivate your audience to act. It’s a fantastic story of a beautiful title that’s been resurrected to see the light of day once again. And it makes me want to book a ticket and go somewhere. And after all, isn’t that the entire point?